Credit: Logan Clow at the Daily Herald Tribune
A decisive game seven was a goal away, but the Spirit River Rangers had other plans on home ice.
Saturday, Morgan MacLean, Andrew Buote and Tanner Labbe scored for the Grande Prairie Athletics in regulation. The Rangers, however, rallied from a 3-2 deficit and Nathan Smith scored the game winning goal and series winner in overtime en route to a 4-3 victory.
The Athletics, who forced a game six on Feb. 9 with a 7-3 home victory, were looking extend the NPHL quarter-final series to a decisive game seven back on home ice on Feb. 14.
“They were a hard working team and they have that playoff experience and they do a lot of good things right. I think (the difference) was just timely goals in the series,” said Glen Watson, head coach and GM of the A’s.
“It’s a long wait until next year. It’s tough to lose in six games, but overall play, I think, was good. I have nothing but good things to say from (Saturday’s) game. The guys gave everything they had.”
He said though he felt the A’s had the experience to go far in the playoffs, he noted the team was missing players such as Mac Caron (knee injury) and Blake Clement.
“We missed some key guys in certain areas. I’m not saying excuses, but those are big shoes to fill.”
The A’s finished second in the NPHL regular season standings, while the Rangers finished fifth.
A positive moving into the 2017-2018 season, he said, is that most of the players have already expressed interest in returning to play.
“The base is there and overall it’s good. We’ve got new board members and everyone is learning what it takes to put a team together and what it takes to run a team too,” he said.
“…We have a good core of guys coming back, which is great. We’re a younger team and we learned what it takes to win…although this year we lost… still, overall, I’m pretty happy with the team.”
Watson said he too plans to return to coach the team.
“We’ve got some good building blocks here. Now, we have to add a couple more guys here or there, but overall I’m happy with it and looking forward to next year.”
The Rangers will face the Fort St. John Flyers in the NPHL semi-finals.
In the other NPHL semi-final series, the Falher Pirates will play the Grimshaw Huskies. The Pirates ousted the Valleyview Jets in four games in the quarter-final.